Bright lights and the smell of "Fair Food" draw thousands to the Mississippi State Fair every year. However, reporter Mollie Bryant dared ask a question that is seldom answered in this fair state: Does the fair actually make money for the government?" The Fair Commission leases the fairgrounds, provides security, and promotes the fair but does the Commission actually earn a profit from the fair? Ms. Bryant reported in the Clarion-Ledger:
Does the Fair Commission actually make money off of the Mississippi State Fair? No one can answer that question thanks to flaws in the Fair Commission's accounting system.
The Fair Commission is a subdivision of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. A 2009 PEER report and information obtained through a public records requests show that the Commission does not track its expenses by event or facility. It is literally impossible to determine if the fair is breaking even, losing money, or making a profit.
“We do track the expenses for the fairground, including the fair,” MDAC spokeswoman Paige Manning said. “We don’t have itemized expenses per event. We’re looking at the financial stability of the fairgrounds as a whole.”
However, the PEER Committee argued in a 2009 report that without knowing gains or losses for each event, the commission can’t maximize its profits by playing to its strengths. PEER said the Commission could use that information to replace unsuccessful events with profitable ones.
Rick Reno, the commission’s executive director, did not return a request for comment.
The Clarion-Ledger asked the Commission to provide the amount of revenue from the fair but received no response. The newspaper filed a public records request in September for the fair's revenue and expenses from 2011 to 2015. Special Assistant Attorney General Bob Graves stated in an emailed response that the Commission had no documents with the requested information. "Actually, they don’t have the expense figures anywhere,” he wrote.
However, the Commission did provide the Clarion-Ledger with its budget for the past five years. The budgets state that the fair gross revenue ranged from $2.5 million to $2.7 million from 2011 to 2014. The 2015 budget did not state actual fair revenue since it combined the revenue with rental income. The gross revenue does not include fair expenses. Thus it is impossible to determine what the actual net profit or loss is from the fair.
“What we gave you is what we have,” Manning said. “At this time, this is all the information we can provide.”
Manning and the PEER report pointed out that the Commission’s accounting system meets state requirements. However, yhe report added that the commission can’t improve profitability if it can't determine the actual profit of individual events and venues.
PEER planned to examine the profitability of the commission’s major events and facilities, but the committee hit a wall when it found the available records wouldn’t actually show the profitability for each venue and event.
“While the financial information for such analysis is present in the Commission’s records, the information is scattered and buried throughout the Commission’s financial system in the form of raw data (i.e. invoices, contracts, receipts),” the report said.
The report also said the accounting system for the fair also doesn’t itemize revenue by admissions, parking, vendor fees, or other categories. That means it isn’t possible to analyze revenue changes from year to year or how decisions like increasing vendor fees affected fair income.
Kingfish note: The accounting system in place is exactly what the Commissioners want. Do you think that Jim Buck Ross wanted anyone to see whether the Ag Museum actually made money? Do you think Lester Spell was any better? Please.